Ruth Appanah's interest in science and medicine first began in Grade 7, when she was told she wasn't allowed to study hereditary genetics because it was too controversial at the time. Her curiosity was piqued and she's been pursuing that passion all the way to her current role as the new executive director for BC Children's Hospital and BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre (C&W) Inter-Campus Operations.
Ruth Appanah was a dark-haired, eight-year-old girl with a thick Scottish accent when she emigrated from Edinburgh, Scotland to Canada in the late 1970s.
“People were very perplexed by my accent in Red Deer, Alberta," she laughs.
But it was her turn to be confounded when a science teacher tried to angle her away from a particular chapter in her elementary school text book.
“We were told to pick a chapter to focus on and there was one on evolution. I asked him if we could study it and he actually said no. It was a very religious area and it hadn't been fully approved for the curriculum at the time. That's when I first heard about heredity and I found it fascinating."
The curiosity grew as she moved to Edmonton and started a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Alberta.
Ruth visited a friend in B.C. and was hooked.
“After I came to Vancouver, I thought, 'I love this city' so I moved here to finish my degree in science with the University of British Columbia, specializing in genetics."
She paid her way through university doing clerical work at C&W and Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), as well as lab reception work at VGH on evenings and weekends.
“It was a great introduction to hospitals," she says. “We received a lot of interesting specimens in the lab that got dispatched for testing. I was always fascinated by what investigations were being conducted on the samples and why."
After getting her Bachelor's degree, she worked and travelled for a couple of years.
“I backpacked around Europe and because of my dual citizenship, ended up settling down in London for about seven years," she says. “So I started work in a research lab at St. Thomas' Hospital, looking at myocardial (heart) cells and how oxygen deprivation causes them to die."
After a year, she moved to the UK Medical Research Council at Hammersmith Hospital to work as a science officer in a lab.
She completed a Master of Science degree in reproductive biology at Imperial College in London and moved back to Vancouver to work for three years as a lab manager in the Medical Genetics Department at UBC.
Ruth then worked as operations coordinator at BC Cancer's Genome Sciences Centre for six years before heading to Simon Fraser University (SFU) for eight years to work as an operations manager. She was later promoted to director of Operations, Safety and Facilities; and finally, director of Strategic Planning and Analysis. She accepted her new position with C&W in August, following her tenure with SFU.
“My children – that's the first thing," says Ruth, who has two daughters, aged 11 and 15.
She's proud of how the SFU Faculty of Science handled the pandemic and facilitated researchers and lab students to carry on with their important work.
She helped lead the submission of the business case for the medical school at SFU, which is expected to welcome its first intake of students in the fall of 2026.
“It brought academic research and health-care together in one space," she says. “For me, it was a reminder of how much I loved working in health care."
At C&W, Ruth is looking forward to meeting people across the hospitals and providing support, where needed.
“I think it's very important to feel the value in what you're doing," she says. “Everybody I've met seems so committed to their work at C&W and to making a difference. It's inspirational."